Bitesize Health Hack #5

You are invited to…

relish every bite

What if changing your relationship with food didn’t have to be about restrictive diets, starvation and guiltily beating yourself up about the crap you eat1?  What if the cure to binge eating and mindless scoffing (who me?!?) could be as simple as savouring every mouthful2?

If we can bring mindfulness and awareness to our eating, it becomes a lot easier to make conscious healthy eating choices, so this is an important first step to put in place BEFORE starting a new eating plan.

Today, I would love to try an exercise with you called “the raisin exercise”7. Go and grab yourself a couple of raisins, a piece of chocolate or any small item of food that takes your fancy and a small plate or bowl. Once you have that to hand, watch and follow along with the 5-minute video below.

THE HACK

Fully see, touch, smell and taste every sensation your food offers

 

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The Challenges

No time to eat so slowly?  Well the good news is that you don’t need to bring the same level of depth and slowness to every bite in the way we did in the raisin exercise.  And start off slowly2 by choosing just 2 or 3 meals in your first week.  Simply take a few moments to visually digest what is on your plate before you start, let the smell of your food activate your salivary glands and savour the texture and taste in each mouthful.  Avoid other distractions - let food be the focus of this meal.

Never get to eat alone?  While it may be easier to do your first few mindful eating exercises on your own, it won’t be long before you’re ready to level up to practise being present to the conversation as well as present to the food you are eating.  And how good does that feel?

You’re finding it too boring?  Make it fun with these little tips:

  • Try eating with your non-dominant hand or chopsticks2
  • Think, with gratitude, about the journey of your food, being nurtured from a seed to your plate2
  • Put your fork down between bites4
  • Create a short ritual at mealtimes, such as traditional grace or other gratitude offering, lighting a candle or even placing your napkin or serving for others4.

You’re an emotional or boredom eater and it happens before you even realise?  Try bringing in the mindful awareness one step earlier.  Pop a post-it onto your fridge and cupboard doors to remind you to notice what feels are prompting you to look for food.  Are you stressed, bored, angry, sad or lonely?  If your desire is not actual hunger, then this is a fantastic opportunity to make a choice to do something more aligned with who you are today instead of reacting mindlessly1.  It’s also a great time to practise your newly developed belly breathing skills from Bitesize Health Hack #1.

You could also create a list of at least 10 things you could do instead of eating (and keep it near the food cupboard).

eating2

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My take on the

SCIENCEY SHIZZLE

(if you’re all about “But why…?”)

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eating3

There are many, many, many scientific studies into the benefits of mindfulness on all areas of health (including weight loss) and we will revisit mindfulness often, so here I have kept to articles and studies that focus on mindful eating, rather than general mindfulness.

Well, first of all, the obvious… if we’re eating more slowly, our body has a chance to become more satiated before we eat as much food.  We all have those friends who tell you they just can’t put on weight, no matter how much they eat.  Well next time you’re sharing a meal with them, notice how slowly they eat.  Yup, they’re probably the ones chewing 32 times or talking too much and embarrassingly, when your plate is empty, they’re not even half-way through.

Savouring your food, particularly before you start eating, activates the salivary glands to produce more digestive enzyme-containing saliva, which, along with chewing, get the digestive process started. So, the more you savour and chew, the better your digestion and nutrient absorption5.

Just like we talked about in Hack #1 (Belly Breathing), getting present helps you to bypass that instinctive habitual reaction (usually generated as a part of flight or fight through anxiety or some other negative emotion) with a more conscious action.  Every time we get mindful, we’re practising at breaking a habit!

At the same time, mindful eating can help you let go of past expectations, resentments and negative associations with food, or at least some types of food.  If we break the pattern, we can let go of the negative association and replace it with a new positive, judgement-free experience1. This is clearly in contrast to traditional weight loss dieting, which is all about striving (and often failing), which simply serves to add a whole host of further negative emotions around eating.  Mindful eating has no effort, no rules and no expectations, therefore you are not setting yourself up to fail.

Interestingly, some research has shown that remembering in more detail what you’ve eaten earlier can decrease the amount that is eaten at the next meal. A study tested this by distracting subjects at their first meal with TV or a computer game and found that those who were distracted at the first meal ate more at the second meal6.

I’d like to end with a quote from a Headspace article on mindful eating “Bringing mindfulness to the table means a kinder, gentler approach to eating.  The focus isn’t necessarily on changing the food we eat (though it can be), it’s on changing our thinking around food.3  This is a lot of fun to play with and a crucial first step to following a healthy eating plan.

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References
  1. This article on Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat describes the raisin exercise
    and talks about the benefits of mindful eating (particularly as an effective weight-loss
    alternative to dieting) and has ideas for implementing mindful eating in your day to day life.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556586/
  2. A great overview on the topic from Harvard Health, including some great ideas to get started
    with eating mindfully.
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating
  3. Some beautiful mindfulness eating context from Headspace
    https://www.headspace.com/mindfulness/mindful-eating
  4. The benefits of mindful eating, Polly Campbell
    https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-benefits-of-mindful-eating/
  5. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Third Edition, Precision Nutrition, Chapter 2
  6. Episodic Memory and Appetite Regulation in Humans
    https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0050707
  7. I first encountered the raisin exercise, and many other mindfulness practices through one of my mentors, Rod Francis, while studying for my Human Potential Coaching Certification. Rod studied under Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is mentioned in some of the above studies as the creator of the raisin exercise.
    https://www.rodfranciscoaching.com/
  8. If you want to dig deeper into this amazing topic, you can't go wrong with the book "Savor - Mindful Eating, Mindful Life" by the amazing Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung.